Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reach for the Skies: Colombia’s Giant Wax Palm Trees

Soaring over 60 m (≈200 ft) high in Colombia’s Cocora Valley is the giant wax palm: the tallest palm tree in the world. Growing at elevations as upward as 3150 m (>10,300 ft) above sea level, the wax palm trees live in seclusion in Colombia’s Andes Mountains, where they grow alongside coffee plants and other exotic vegetation. If a daring soul were to climb to the top (surely with a harness I’d hope), they may also be lucky enough to witness an endangered Yellow-eared parrot. The parrots are known to nest in the hollowed out trunks and leaf beds of the wax palms but they are extremely hard to find.

The wax palms get their name from a natural wax that covers their trunks which was also used for candles until the Colombian government passed a law that now protects the vulnerable trees. In addition to their waxy coating, the palm trees have also in the past been hunted for the Catholic holiday, Palm Sunday, as well as for architectural purposes.

The trees are now protected though, and it is not uncommon for Cocora Valley to be covered in fog, which gives the valley somewhat of a “Jack and the bean stalk” sort of feel to it. Standing below the palm trees and losing their green caps in a heavy fog can be almost as impressive as the sight of the palm trees on a clear day. However, there is nothing more humbling than standing directly beneath the palm tree that makes the mountains look small.

Photo Credit:
Alex Treadway, National Geographic


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